Discovery Phase: Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions

Mariana Zhurakovska
Business Analyst
Yuriy Nakonechnyy
Oleh Kozak
Head of delivery

March 11, 2021

You’ve probably heard this: “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” No matter who said this (Benjamin Franklin?), it was way before the first digital product was built. However, the problem raised in the quote applies to software development, too.

Unlike coding or design, planning doesn’t seem to have tangible results and is often viewed as an unnecessary expense. Meanwhile, limited planning remains the number one reason why projects fail.

In this article, we’ll explain the value of the Discovery Phase — the key element of digital project planning and answer the most common questions of our clients:

  • What is the Discovery Phase?
  • Who implements the Discovery Phase?
  • What’s done during the Discovery Phase exactly?
  • What deliverables does the client receive afterward, and how can they use them?
  • Who needs the Discovery Phase, and what happens if you skip it?
  • What do you risk when you decide on the Discovery Phase? 

What is the Discovery Phase?

The Discovery Phase s an intensive exploratory process to define project goals, scope, and limitations. It’s about determining what needs to be done to deliver a project, in what order, how long it will take, and what resources it will require. Simply put, the Discovery Phase is a way to eliminate uncertainty at the project onset. 

To be more precise, the Discovery Phase will help you:

  • Identify project scope more accurately
  • Define team composition
  • Optimize the budget of the project
  • Make data-driven design decisions
  • Create a seamless user experience based on profound user research
  • Build a solid foundation for a higher ROI
  • Identify the direction of the development process and avoid unexpected scope creep
  • Identify limitations and potential risks
  • Build trust with the development vendor

But how exactly do you achieve these results? Let’s take a look. 

Who implements the Discovery Phase?

The Discovery Phase usually involves four specialists: a business analyst (BA), a UX Designer, a Software Architect, and a Project Manager (PM).

  • A Business Analyst defines what the solution should be to solve a problem end-users care about. A BA is responsible for collecting, structuring, and analyzing the client’s requirements and business needs, which are then transformed into user stories and estimates. Besides, a business analyst ensures that the client and the delivery team stay on the same page regarding project goals. 
  • A UX Designer analyzes competitors and end-users needs, which is critical for building intuitive and visually appealing user experiences. They create prototypes and wireframes to bring the product vision to life. Besides, they can also give clear estimates on each stage of the UX/UI design development process.
  • A Software Architect is responsible for the technical side of things. Based on the business logic, they design the product architecture and define the tech stack. Besides, a software architect ensures the project is feasible in terms of development.
  • A Project Manager prepares a project plan, evaluates and manages the risks, and establishes internal communication. A PM also gathers estimates and adds them into one timeline.

Discovery phase team

This is the standard set of specialists needed for a successful discovery stage. Besides, based on your niche, we can provide subject matter experts: CTO, Delivery Manager, engineers, or Tech Leads working on similar projects.

What’s done during the Discovery Phase, exactly? 

Depending on your project, the Discovery Phase takes two to four weeks. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer on what’s exactly done during this period; everything depends on the vendor and what you already have. But here, at Sombra, the process typically looks like this: 

discovery phase process


Besides, to ensure that we are staying on the same page with your expectations, we’ll conduct elicitation meetings every two to three days (the frequency may vary based on your case). All in all, there are four types of such meetings: 

  • Introductory session. It’s the first meeting, during which we introduce you to all members of the discovery team, and you share your project idea (and all the necessary information you have, though it’s OK if all you have is an idea). Besides, we’ll choose communication channels, elaborate the action plan for the meetings, define the success metrics, and identify the deliverables you expect to receive in the end.
  • Discovery workshops. Depending on the specifics of your project, we’ll have 3-5 workshops in which we’ll report on the Discovery Phase progress and collect more information from you, if necessary.
  • Demo sessions. We’ll validate our Discovery Phase deliverables against your expectations during these meetings.
  • Presentation. It’s the final meeting, during which we’ll share all our deliverables. You’ll be able to review them and make change requests within the agreed time. 

The duration of each elicitation meeting may differ. But from our experience, it shouldn’t take longer than one hour and a half. Such meetings are intensive, and making them too long is counterproductive. 

What deliverables does the client receive afterward? How can they use them? 

As you already know, at the end of the Discovery Phase, you’ll receive tangible deliverables, which always vary based on the client’s needs. Basically, they will correspond to the Discovery Phase stages described above:

discovery phase deliverables

All these deliverables are vital, each deriving from the previous one. Together, they will give you a full understanding of what you need to achieve, how it will look, and what it will take. Still, it’s up to you to decide how to use them. For example, they can be a basis for further development (with us, any other development vendor, or your internal team), or as a startup, you can use them to pitch your project to investors.

Who needs the Discovery Phase? What happens if you skip it?

Whether you are a startup with only an idea of a project or an established business looking to review and optimize your processes with a general vision of how you can do it, the Discovery Phase is a must. It will give you a comprehensive view of where you are, where you should move, which roadblocks might hinder the process, how to address them, and what it will take.

On the other hand, many projects decide to skip the Discovery Phase. Below are the risks associated with skipping it:

discovery phase


Still, despite the risks described above, not everyone needs the Discovery Phase. If a client has all the necessary documents (the UX/UI concept, detailed product backlog, architecture concepts), a cost estimation from us is enough to start the development. 

Sometimes, clients only need a part of our discovery services. For example, one of our clients approached us to migrate their existing product to new technology with the design and all functions preserved. As a result, we elaborated on a new architecture, estimated the budget and timeframes, and proceeded with the development. Since such cases are not rare, we offer several discovery packages for you to choose from.

On top of that, it doesn’t matter who implements the Discovery Phase: you, us, or a third-party vendor. As we already said, comprehensive and readable documents are all we need to start coding.

What do you risk when you decide on the Discovery Phase?

So, you committed to the Discovery Phase. But what are you risking? 

Well, you risk nothing. Seriously. But there are things you might not be too happy with: 

  • The Discovery Phase costs some money
  • Since the Discovery Phase takes from two to four weeks, the development will start a bit later
  • After all the calculations and estimations made, it might turn out that you don’t have enough budget to deliver the project

On the other hand, the Discovery Phase is all about saving your time and money in the long run. And what’s more, it’s much less risky to learn about your budget limitations beforehand, not when the development is already in full swing. We believe that the only serious threat associated with the Discovery Phase (and software outsourcing as a whole) is hiring the wrong development vendor. 

Choosing a reliable partner is the first step to a fruitful Discovery Phase and successful project delivery. Luckily, you are already in the right place. With more than 150 successfully delivered projects and seven years of experience, the Sombra team will help you bring your project to life, even if an idea is all you have. Let’s talk!

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